Sunday, February 12, 2012

Frostbite Sailing, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

I got a chance to film a day of frostbite racing in the snow yesterday, though it was pretty light. This time I kept the spare battery warm in my shirt pocket, but I made the mistake of using the camera out of its waterproof housing mounted on the stern rail, then put it back without wiping it off. There was just enough moisture on it to fog up the housing a bit, and I didn't wipe off the new snow that fell on it. The result was that most of the video was unwatchable, too fogged up to see much. I did manage to salvage a bit, though it's on the edge of watchability.

Naturally, just as we were getting ready for the first race, we all had to pull off to the side to let a barge head up the harbor, immediately followed by a tanker outbound. The tanker was the reason I took the camera out, so I could shoot it going past. It was moving at a pretty good clip, creating an impressive bow-wave. Large displacement hulls like this have a bulb at the bow to improve their hydrodynamics, increasing efficiency, but requiring them to operate near maximum speed at all times (you can read about it here, fascinating!).

The bulb also reduces the wake; you'll note in the video one of the small power boats of the Race Committee is pretty close to the ship, yet remains largely undisturbed by its passing. Meanwhile, a small Coast Guard boat not much longer than our boats went out at high speed later and produced enough wake to rattle all our shrouds.

Jonathan was on the tiller, and got us a first place in one race. Matt was on the foredeck, and I was in the pit. On sheets was Bud Ris, president and CEO of the New England Aquarium and former president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (you meet the most interesting people on these crews, conversation can range from the Super Bowl to nuclear non-proliferation!).

The air was a bit light for the first race, so you'll notice Matt sitting on the lower side of the boat, between the headsail and the mast. We use our body weight to balance out the heel of the boat, but sometimes we actually have to use it to contribute to the heel so that we can point on a closer course to our mark.

One of the fun things about sailing is that it's the embodiment of applied Newtonian physics. You feel it! The wind on the sails produces lift through the Bernoulli effect, causing heeling moment that pulls the boat over. Meanwhile, the weight of the keel (and the human ballast) produces righting moment that pulls the boat back upright. The forward component of the lift propels the boat. Better than magic!


  1. Looks like great fun. I'm incredibly jealous.

  2. Hi Chuck, thanks for reading! It's a blast, though it does take a certain enthusiasm for cold weather activities. My wife always asks about that fine line between fun and stupidity, she seems to think it's a little further to the left than I do!

    And I'm incredibly jealous of the magnificent furniture in the portfolio on your website, so we're even!

  3. Hi Steve,
    I enjoy your WW articles, and your sailing posts are even better. I love the time lapse video.

    If you ever need crew, please email me. I live in Hingham and just started racing last summer. I'd need some advice on winter sailing clothes.

    I was in San Francisco last week and I got to sail on the 2002 Oracle America's Cup yacht. If you are ever out there, its a must do. I have some short videos here:

    Thanks for the great blogging,

  4. Been there, done that, got the dead toes to prove it.

    I appreciate an adventure...but for me, freezing my buns off isn't one of them.

  5. Rob, very cool, I'm even more jealous! The advice on winter clothes: lots of it!

    Seriously, though, the key for any active winter activity, from mountaineering to sailing, is the three-layer method: a skin layer of thin wicking material like polyester, polypropylene, or merino wool; multiple insulation layers of wicking materials like fleece or wool in varying thicknesses; and a wind layer of sturdy waterproof breathable material like Gore-Tex or the various similar proprietary materials.

    You can add or remove insulation layers depending on the conditions and your activity level. The main thing is to keep any sweat away from the skin, hence the wicking materials. Nothing causes hypothermia faster than working up a good sweat in cotton (which is not a wicking material, it holds the moisture right against your skin), then stopping for a while.

    Hat, gloves, and boots should also have insulation and wind/water layers. Winter sailing gloves are a real challenge. It's hard to find something that provides the warmth and water resistance, yet still allows enough dexterity. Sometimes you just have to take them off to get something done (and hold on to them so they don't go overboard).

    And Mitchell, I understand that, I have a friend who got frozen toe tips ice climbing.


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